A pair of heavy-duty racks to use separately or in combination
The new liquid-cooled R1200GSW is a great motorcycle. It's one of those bikes that just begs to be ridden. If you are like a lot of folks, you go places on your bike, and may find yourself bringing
a lot of stuff along with you. Maybe you like to go on long tours, or weekend rides. Maybe you like to camp along the way, so you often need to carry a tent, perhaps a folding chair, backpacking stove, etc. How do you pack everything you need? Some folks install saddlebags on their bikes. Others prefer a minimalist approach, and strap what they need onto the back. Either way, we often find ourselves wanting to tie stuff down on the back of the bike. It is the rare individual who never does this, as somehow those saddlebags are never quite big enough. Of course, some things just don't fit in saddlebags, so must be strapped down to the bike. A good luggage rack makes this easy, by offering many tie-down points. A good luggage rack is also strong enough to hold up to strapping things down tightly, without any bending or flexing that can allow a load to shift or straps to loosen.
I rarely carry a passenger, and what I had seen so far from AltRider was top notch, so I decided to try their two luggage racks, which they call a "luggage rack system." Evidently, at some point
when I wasn't paying attention, everything sold in today's world became a "system." I was just looking at winter coats from that well-known Maine-based legume company, and they wanted to sell me a "winter coat system," which sounded silly to me, but I digress. Getting back to the racks, I will confess that my choice was also influenced by the fact that they are US-made, although that may not matter to you.
AltRider offers two racks made from sturdy 3/16" aluminum: one that replaces the passenger seat, called the Pillion Luggage Rack, and a Rear Luggage Rack that either bolts to the stock plastic
rack, or can be installed instead of the stock plastic rack. If you buy both, as their system package, you save a few bucks. Those of you not in North America probably ought to check here.
The R1200GS comes with a modest luggage rack standard from the factory that is elevated and located behind the passenger seat. It is not a bad rack, but it is made of plastic and that worries me somewhat. BMW also sells a sort of rack piece that installs instead of the passenger seat, but it too is plastic. This fine piece of German plastic sells for close to the same price as the sturdy
metal AltRider rack. I am sure that the Germans have a lengthy and precise explanation for why a molded piece of plastic is adequate, but more plastic is not what I want, especially if I ever tip
this beast over while on a wild safari to Starbucks. Give me real metal, please.
It should be pointed out that the rear rack is configured to accept an inexpensive ($18) Givi Monokey Top Case mounting kit, should that be desired, and that it is also set up to accept the
increasingly popular RotopaX containers, be they for fuel or what-have-you. To my way of thinking, this versatility shows that care was taken during the design process. And yes, these racks can be used with the Jesse Odyssey II bags and mounts.
There are several mounting combinations:
Rear Rack - High Mount
Rear Rack - Low Mount
Pillion Rack with Rear Rack - High or Low Mount
Rear Rack - High Mount
This is the AltRider Rear Luggage Rack. It can be installed in either of two ways: on top of the stock plastic BMW luggage rack, or down lower, directly on the tail section in place of the BMW
rack. It is offered in either silver or black. I think the black looks very sharp, so that's what I ordered. It is crafted from heavy gauge aluminum, and the design incorporates two bends - one
along either side, which enhance rigidity and the ability to access slots for straps or hooks. I believe that the 3/16" aluminum would have been stiff enough without the bends, but as I become more familiar with things from AltRider, I am starting to conclude that they take design very seriously, and take no half measures.
Note: If you are going to use the Pillion rack in combination with the rear rack, remove the plastic BMW rack as described in the Rear Rack - Low Mount section, then install the pillion rack as
described in the Pillion Rack with Rear Rack - High or Low section before mounting the AltRider rear rack to the plastic BMW rack. The reason for this is that the rear rack will block your access
to the two rear bolts that attach the BMW rack to the bike.
Ultimately I will probably remove my stock BMW plastic rack and mount the AltRider rear rack in the low position - I prefer having the load down closer to the center of gravity, where it will have
less of an impact on handling. However, for the purposes of this review, I wanted to try all of the possible combinations.
As is their custom, AltRider packages the parts carefully, in a sealed plastic bag. There is foam wrapped around the rack itself, and the assorted spacers, bolts, etc., are packed securely in their
own little sealed bag. Printed mounting instructions are included, and are well-written, with more than adequate text and photos to guide you through installation.
To mount the AltRider rear rack to the stock BMW rack, you must first remove the four OEM bolts found on the top surface of the rack. This will require a T-30 torx bit and about five minutes of
The next step is to put the four small diameter spacers into the holes where the bolts were that you just removed. Each spacer has a flat side, and a slanted side, as shown below. Set the spacers into the holes with the slanted side on top, low side forward.
Orient the low side of all spacers toward the front of the motorcycle. AltRider's instructions mention that you can put a small amount of grease on the bottoms of the spacers to help keep them in place, but with the bike on the centerstand, I did not find that to be necessary. The ruler is in the picture simply to show a relatively level edge against the slanted top of a spacer.
Once you have all four spacers into their holes and properly oriented, gently place the rack on top, being careful not to dislodge them.
Then, take one of the four smaller diameter Allen head bolts supplied by AltRider, and thread it in place by hand, so that you don't cross-thread it. Repeat this for all 4 holes.
Now, you can use a 4mm Allen wrench to tighten them all down.
I do have to say that it is a pretty spiffy looking rack. I think that having the stylized uppercase "A" AltRider logo machined into it is far more tasteful than the way some other brands have
their name all over their products. Note that it does not interfere with my Jesse bags in any way.
If you're going to carry a passenger much, I recommend this configuration, because the forward arms of the BMW plastic rack act as handholds for the passenger.
Rear Rack - Low Mount
The second way that the rear rack can be mounted is down low, directly on the tail piece. This permits a bit more weight and eliminates the OEM plastic rack. I like the lean, tucked-in look this
gives the back of the bike.
The first step is to remove the passenger seat and the factory BMW rack. Your ignition key is used to remove the passenger seat, but you'll need a T-40 torx bit to remove the four bolts holding
that plastic factory rack in place. Be sure to take a small zip lock bag or other container and put all the hardware in it, along with a small slip of paper describing the contents. Trust me on
this. A year from now you'll be scratching your head if you don't label the hardware.
At this point, I am going to deviate from standard AltRider instructions, because my bike is equipped with Jesse Odyssey II saddlebags. In terms of installation, this means that we'll only use two
of the supplied spacers, because we already have Jesse spacers in place in the two forward places.
There are two sets of spacers AltRider supplies for low mounting: 15mm and 11mm. We'll call them tall and short.
With Jesse Odyssey II mounts in place, I believe the best choice is to use the short spacers in the two rear locations closest to the tail light as shown below, and no spacers at all in the forward
spots, because those are already elevated by the Jesse spacers and Odyssey mount tabs which in combination add up to about the same as the tall spacers. If you don't have Jesse bags, you should follow the AltRider instructions.
Note: Due to variations in how the BMW plastic fits, you may find it difficult to set the spacers in place so that their holes are directly over the threads. If the holes in the spacers are not
directly over the threads, there is an increased chance that you will cross-thread the bolts. If this is the case with yours, use a utility knife or dremel to very slightly hog out the plastic holes where the spacers sit.
Remove the rear Odyssey mount bolts and dished washers, but keep the bolts handy, as they will be re-used. The dished washers will not be used. The bolts will require a 5mm Allen wrench. It is a good idea to loosen up the rest of the Odyssey mounting bolts too, because you may find it easier to get bolts and holes correctly aligned when reassembling, with the Jesse mounts a little loose.
Place the rack so it is aligned to the 4 holes, then start the bolts by hand to avoid cross-threading. You may need to lightly push or pull on the Jesse mount to allow the bolt a clear path down to the threads.
Re-use the Jesse bolts in the same position where they were removed. The rack takes the place of the dished washers. Do not fully tighten until after all four bolts have been threaded.
Use the AltRider-provided 35mm bolts for the two rear holes. Start the bolts by hand and be mindful of the spacer aligning properly with the threads.
Once all 4 bolts are in place, tighten them up, using a 5mm Allen wrench, and tighten up your Jesse mounts as well.
Replace the seat, and you are done! Hard to tell from the picture below, but there is no interference with the Jesse bags.
Pillion Rack with Rear Rack - High or Low Mount
Below is the AltRider Pillion Luggage Rack. When used, it takes the place of the passenger seat. It can be mounted with or without the standard BMW plastic luggage rack in place. Like the rear
rack, the pillion rack incorporates a bend in the design for added resistance to flex. As always, a good set of printed installation instructions are provided in the box with the product.
To the right is a look at the underside of the pillion rack. It mounts to the bike in the same manner as the passenger seat; by means of a latch controlled by the ignition key at the front, and mounting tangs at the rear.
The first step is to remove your passenger seat using the ignition key, and then remove the two little rubber bumpers closest to the tail light that are visible when the seat is off. I was able to
pull them out with my fingers, but you can use pliers or pry them out with a screwdriver, if need be.
Attach the male locator pin to the underside of the front of the pillion rack. This pin is what is captured by the rear seat latch.
Note that there are two square tabs on the shaft underneath the conical head. For proper latching, you should orient the pin so that the tabs protrude front and rear, rather than to the sides.
Use the provided small bolt and a 4mm Allen wrench. It is recommended to use a threadlocker, such as Loctite, on the threads. You only need a drop.
An open-ended wrench along the tabs can be used to turn the pin to orient it properly, and is useful for holding the pin when tightening it down. A 10mm wrench is used for this.
Once the locating pin has been tightened down, you can mount the pillion luggage rack to your bike in exactly the same manner as you do your rear seat.
The next step is to re-install the BMW luggage rack, so that you can have the rear rack in the high position.
Note: If you want the rear rack in the low position, see the instructions for that, above; for the rear rack in the high position, continue here with these instructions. Also note that if you run the AltRider pillion and rear racks both in the low position (without the plastic BMW rack), the absence of the BMW rack will mean that you will have open threaded holes on the tail piece. You
should put bolts into those empty holes to protect those threads.
Whether to choose the low or high position for the rear rack is largely a matter of personal preference, with one caveat. There is a rear rack weight restriction of twenty pounds when the BMW
plastic rack is used. I am aware of no such weight restriction when the AltRider rear rack is mounted directly to the tail section in the low position, without the plastic BMW rack.
Since we have changed things by adding the pillion rack, we must use spacers under the plastic BMW rack when we re-install it. Remember our tall and short spacers shown above? Place the tall ones in the two forward holes, and the short ones in the two rear holes, as shown below.
Next, place the plastic rack down onto the spacers, and attach it. Use the AltRider-supplied long 8x55mm bolts and washers for the front of the rack. I recommend starting them by hand to avoid cross-threading. Leave them loose until after you install the rear bolts. Use a 6mm Allen wrench for final tightening.
In the rear, attach the BMW rack to the tail piece by re-using the two original 40mm bolts that held the rack in place before you removed it earlier. You will need a T-40 torx wrench for that.
It should be pointed out that if you are using the pillion rack with the plastic BMW rack in place, the pillion rack cannot be removed unless you first remove the BMW rack. Take this into consideration when you decide how to configure your racks, if you routinely carry a passenger.
AltRider has designed a pair of robust, yet reasonably lightweight luggage racks, that can be used in a variety of configurations to suit different situations.
These racks are well-designed, and build quality is excellent, as is fit and functionality. The numerous cutouts and holes present on both racks mean that they will accept a wide array of straps or hooks, to suit your needs. Recommended.
P.S. I would be remiss to write about luggage racks without a few words on how to strap things down. Do yourself a favor and take a look at Rok Straps. They are sort of a hybrid strap with sections of nylon web strapping and a very heavy-duty elastic section. They come with either loops or hooks on their ends. I have been using them for years, and find them to be utterly reliable and capable of keeping my gear tied down no matter how heavy the load, what the weather does, or how rough the road is. To top it off, they are not expensive. Recommended.
This review can also be seen on my little corner of the web, with a few more pics and a little more text here: http://home.comcast.net/~emoto1/AltRiderRacks.htm
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this review. Please check back from time to time, because I will be ordering, installing, and reviewing more accessories as time and budget permit.
Author's Note: I make my living as a technical writer, creating mind-numbingly dry and boring software manuals for the financial services industry that are entirely devoid of humor or creativity. If more people read my manuals, insomnia would not exist! I write little reviews like this one purely for fun, as a kind of antidote for the writing I must do on a daily basis. I have no financial interest in any of the companies whose products I write about, nor am I on their payrolls. The information presented is my personal opinion, and mine alone. I hope you enjoyed it and found it informative! Farkle on, my friends!